Donovan McNabb (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
In a league in which teams are relying on big passing numbers more than ever, the Vikings aren’t even close to keeping up. While they have a successful running game, their balance has been skewed.
Today is the day that could well decide the Vikings’ 2011 season. Although they are 0-2, neither loss was a divisional game and just one of them was a conference game – two of the top four playoff tie-breakers. A loss to Detroit would be a crippling blow because anyone with playoff aspirations has to defend their home turf and the Vikings face the prospect of starting the year 0-2 at home – something they haven’t done since 2002.
The Jeckyl-Hyde team has dominated the first half of games, outscoring their opponents 34-7. But, in the second half, they have been beaten down by a combined score of 41-3 – by far the worst scoring disparity in the NFL.
While Donovan McNabb has taken much of the blame for the lack of success of the offense, it has come for a reason. Through two games, the Vikings offense has gained 585 yards. In the pass-happy NFL, 10 quarterbacks have thrown for more yardage than the entire Vikings offense, including Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matthew Stafford, Matt Hasselbeck, Rex Grossman and Chad Henne.
Not only is McNabb not challenging any of those QBs, he isn’t even holding up his end of the Vikings’ offensive total. Of the 585 total yards the Vikings have gained, 345 of those have come from the run game – a whopping 59 percent of the team total. Only two other teams (Jacksonville and Kansas City) have more rushing yards than passing yards, but neither is even close in terms of percentage of run/pass distribution.
Everyone says you have to establish the run to be successful in the NFL. The Vikings have done that. They’re near the top of the league in rushing offense. But until the pass offense gets its act together, the Vikings will depend on their defense to hold opponents to 14 points or fewer if they want to start winning.
Through two games, Percy Harvin leads the team in receptions (nine) and yards (83) and he has only been in on half the team’s offensive plays. Michael Jenkins has six catches in two games, Visanthe Shiancoe has three, Bernard Berrian has one, Kyle Rudolph has one and Greg Camarillo, Devin Aromashodu, Jim Kleinsasser and Allen Reisner have none.
It’s hard to underestimate that component of the Vikings offense as the primary culprit for their 0-2 start. Nine of the players on the 53-man roster are wide receivers and tight ends. Of those nine, six of them have no more than one catch and four of them have none.
Maybe the ’85 Bears could win that way. The ’11 Vikings can’t. Like it or not, it’s time to open up the passing offense or the Vikings will continue to slide farther back in the rear-view mirror of the Packers and Bears and, depending on today’s outcome, the Lions – with a road win in their pocket.
If that doesn’t make today’s game a “must-win,” what does?
The Lions are one of only two teams to rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense – ranking 8th in offense (12th rushing, 6th passing) and 7th in defense (13th rushing, 7th passing). The other team is Dallas, which ranks 4th in both offense and defense.
The Vikings are faring much less favorably, ranking 27th in offense (3rd rushing, 31st passing) and 21st in defense (10th rushing, 23rd passing).
The only teams that have rushed for more yards than the Vikings are the Bills and Eagles.
The only team with fewer passing yards than the Vikings is the Seattle Seahawks, who have former Viking Tarvaris Jackson as their quarterback.
The Lions have averaged almost 130 yards of offense more than the Vikings. Detroit is averaging 421 yards a game, while the Vikings are averaging 292.5 yards a game.
Matthew Stafford hasn’t been sacked in the first two games this season.
The Lions have succeeded despite being one of the worst teams in the NFL on converting third downs on offense. In 26 opportunities, they have made good on just seven – a dismal 26.9 percent, which is well below the league average of 38.5 percent. The Vikings are ahead of the league average at 40.9 percent (converting nine of 22 chances).
The Vikings have been pretty hideous on third-down defense. The league average is 38.5 percent, but the Vikings have allowed opponents to convert on 52 percent (13 of 25). The Lions defense has faced 25 third downs and allowed opponents to convert just eight of those (32 percent).
Need a reason to explain Detroit’s 2-0 start? The Lions lead the NFL in giveaway/takeaway ratio at +6 (8 takeaways, 2 giveaways). But that doesn’t explain the Vikings’ 0-2 start, as they are tied for 11th at +1 (3 takeaways, 2 giveaways).
The Lions are 6th in the league in red zone touchdown percentage at 70 percent (10 possessions, seven TDs). The Vikings are tied for 10th at 50 percent (six possessions, three touchdowns).
Defensively, the Lions are second at 20 percent, allowing just one TD on five opponent trips to the red zone. The Vikings are 12th at 44.4 percent (nine possessions, four touchdowns).
Stafford has shined through the first two weeks. He is eighth in yards (599), fourth in passer rating (112.0) and tied for first in touchdowns (7).
In contrast, Donovan McNabb is at the other end of the spectrum. He is 30th in attempts (69), 31st in completions (35), 30th in yards (267), tied for 29th in touchdowns (1) and 30th in passer rating (71.3).
Adrian Peterson is fourth in the league in rushing with 218 yards, just 11 off the league leader (Fred Jackson of Buffalo). Jahvid Best is 14th with 129 yards.
Nate Burleson leads the Lions with 12 receptions, good for a tie for 18th in the league. Percy Harvin leads the Vikings with nine receptions, which ties for 40th in the league.
Burleson also leads the Lions in receiving yardage (153), which is 27th in the NFL. Harvin leads the Vikings with just 83 yards, tied for 71st.
Calvin Johnson is tied for the league lead in scoring with 24 points (four touchdowns). Peterson’s 12 points on two TDs is tied for 10th among non-kickers.
Jason Hanson is tied for second among kickers in scoring with 21 points. Ryan Longwell is tied for 23rd with 13 points.
Peterson is tied for ninth in total yards from scrimmage with 245 (218 rushing, 27 receiving). Best is 13th with 237 yards (129 rushing, 109 receiving).
Harvin would lead the league in kickoff returns, but doesn’t have enough of them (just two) to qualify among the league leaders.
Detroit’s Chris Houston is tied for the league lead in interceptions with two.
Detroit is looking to break one of the longest winless streaks in league history. The Lions have lost 13 straight games at the Metrodome, dating back to 1998.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.